Educator says bill to fine parents for missing conferences could alienate parents from schools

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A proposed bill in the Texas Legislature that would fine parents who do not attend parent-teacher conferences could be counterproductive, according to a University of North Texas expert in education law.

Under the bill, filed by Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, parents would receive notice by certified mail of three proposed dates for a parent-teacher conference. A parent who ignores the notice or schedules a meeting but fails to attend could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and fined up to $500 unless he or she has a "reasonable excuse" for missing the meeting, such as a medical emergency.

Smith has said his goal is not to punish parents, but to get them to show up for meetings so they can communicate face to face about their children with the teachers.

But Dr. Richard Fossey, a professor in the UNT Department of Teacher Education and Administration, said the proposed law "would have the effect of making teachers into hostile witnesses in legal actions against parents."

"Teachers work hard to maintain the confidence of parents including the parents who don't attend parent-teacher conferences," he says. "The law could make parents less trustful of teachers."

In addition, existing truancy laws have not worked well, says Fossey, who holds a degree from the University of Texas School of Law and represented several Alaska school districts as an attorney. Law enforcement officials lack the time to enforce the laws, and school officials are reluctant to involve themselves in prosecuting parents whose children miss school. The proposed law could have the same problems, Fossey says.

"When it comes right down to it, many parents don't involve themselves in their children's schooling because they feel uncomfortable or unwelcome," he says. "A law that fines them for not participating will just reinforce these negative feelings. I think the law is a bad idea."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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